A coalition of political parties, led by United National Congress (UNC) leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, swept aside the People’s National Movement (PNM) in last Monday’s general elections in Trinidad & Tobago, providing the twin-island republic with its first female Prime Minister.
Patrick Manning’s bold decision to call an election midway through his term backfired with his party securing just 12 of the 41 seats in the legislature. The UNC picked up 21 seats while the Congress of the People (COP) and the Tobago Organization of the People (TOP), which are part of the alliance, won six and two seats respectively.
Toronto-based calypso researcher George Maharaj, whose attempt to run for the COP in the last election in 2007 was denied because he holds dual citizenship, said he was surprised by the coalition’s wide margin of victory and their triumph in Arima and Tobago East and West which are considered PNM strongholds.
The COP candidate Roger Samuels defeated Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing in Arima while TOP candidates Vernella Alleyne-Toppin and Dr. Delmon Baker won the only two seats in the sister island – Tobago East and West — brushing aside Gizel Thomas-Roberts and Terrence Williams.
“When you look at the results, all of the major seats went to the coalition,” said Maharaj. “I am confident that the coalition will work because everybody is on the same page. It’s my hope that it stays that way.”
The first five months of the year have been golden for Persad-Bissessar who became the twin-island republic’s first female attorney general 15 years ago and who served as acting Prime Minister five years later.
The 59-year-old took over the UNC party leadership in January and became Opposition leader a month later. The milestone achievements, including her ascendancy to PM, were all achieved on the 24th day of those months.
She pledged that the coalition will be a government for all Trinidadians & Tobagonians.
“We will build on our collective strength and character and everyone of us will rise,” said the successful Siparia candidate. “No one will be left behind.”
Maharaj said rising crime, a dilapidated health care system and constant flooding throughout the country, mainly in the central T & T agricultural belt, are some of Persad-Bissessar’s main challenges.
“She has good people in her corner and I know that she will take care of those things that need urgent attention,” he added.
Persad-Bissessar is the Caribbean’s fourth female head of government. The late Eugenia Charles was Dominica’s Prime Minister for 15 years up until 1995 while Janet Jagan held the position of President for nine months in 1997 in Guyana. Portia Simpson-Miller was Jamaica’s Prime Minister from April 2006 to March 2007.
Manning admitted he’s fully responsible for the huge defeat in the election he called 30 months before one was constitutionally due to be held in T & T.
The president of the PNM People (Toronto chapter) Selwyn Joseph believes Manning acted selfishly in calling the snap election.
“The least he could have done was to have consulted with others to get a feel of the temperature,” said Joseph. “It’s my belief he did not seek advice and he showed poor judgment. He gambled and he lost heavily.”
Joseph says it’s obvious that the party needs an infusion of new leadership.
“Hopefully, Manning will do the right thing now and take the appropriate steps and attempt to get the party back on track,” he added.
Manning, who led T & T for 13 of the past 17 years, won his San Fernando East riding, but several of his ministers suffered defeats in their constituencies, including Neil Parsanlal (Information), Esther LeGendre (Education), Kennedy Swaratsingh (Public Administration) and Karen Nunez-Tesheira (Finance).
The COP leader Winston Dookeran won his Tunapuna constituency while other party winners were TV personality Anil Roberts, Prakash Ramadhar, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and Lincoln Douglas.
In addition to the PM-elect, the UNC winners were International Soccer Federation (FIFA) vice-president Austin “Jack” Warner (Chaguanas West), Dr. Rupert Griffith (Toco/Sangre Grande), Dr. Suruj Rambachan (Tabaquite), Herbert Volney (St. Joseph), Nela Khan (Princes Town), Errol McLeod (Point-A-Pierre), Stacy Roopnarine and Roodal Moonilal (Oropouche West and East respectively), Nizam Baksh (Naparima), Clifton De Coteau (Moruga/Tableland), Winston “Gypsy” Peters (Mayaro), Jairam Seemungal (La Horquetta/Talparo), Chandresh Sharma (Fyzabad), Colin Partap (Cumuto/Manzanilla), Rudy Indarsingh and Ramona Ramdial (Couva South and North respectively), Stephen Cadiz (Chaguanas East), Dr. Tim Gopeesingh and Dr. Glenn Ramadharsingh (Caroni East and Central respectively) and Dr. Fuad Khan (Barataria/San Juan).